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CRIME

Mafia murders drop as gangsters go ‘clean’

Italian mafia homicides have fallen by almost a half in recent years, underscoring the gangsters' ongoing shift into what look like legitimate business sectors, researchers said on Tuesday.

Mafia murders drop as gangsters go 'clean'
The Italian mafia is turning from violent crime to money-laundering. Photo: Mattes/Wikicommons

Anna Alvazzi del Frate, research director of the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey think-tank, told reporters that mafia killings in Italy dropped by 43 percent between 2007 and 2010, and that the trend was continuing.

"We think that this may be related to the increasing involvement of mafia groups in business relations, for example through money laundering, including involvement with the white-collar sector," Alvazzi del Frate said.

According to the Small Arms Survey's annual study – which provides snapshots of firearms issues around the globe – the risks of using extreme violence now appear to outweigh the perceived benefits for Italy's crime syndicates.

"This may lead them to avoid visibility and not draw law enforcement's attention," Alvazzi del Frate said at the study's launch.

"The problem of infiltration of organised crime into legal business is a very, very serious problem," she said.

"However, despite the reduction in lethal violence, mafia groups continue to maintain extensive firearm arsenals," she warned.

Among other issues probed by the think-tank was the relationship between conflicts and illicit market prices for ammunition.

"It does seem that rising illicit market prices do reflect an expectation that the security situation is bad and is likely to deteriorate," said Small Arms Survey researcher Nicolas Florquin.

For example, prices in Lebanon for ammunition for M16 and Kalashnikov assault rifles jumped in April 2011, a month after the outbreak of the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

They then dipped slightly, before holding steady, then rising fast from November 2011 to September 2012, when the Small Arms Survey's study concluded.

"It's ammunition prices, and not Kalashnikov prices or military rifle prices generally, that tell us more about conflict dynamics, which is a better indicator of changes in local situations," said Glenn McDonald, a senior researcher at the think-tank.

"We see that ammunition prices are in fact following levels of fatality in Syria," he noted.

The study showed that the global trade in small arms is worth around €6.5 billion a year, with the illicit market making up almost half that sum.

Almost three-quarters of the globe's 875 million firearms are in civilian hands.

Approximately 526,000 people die gun-related deaths every year, but only 10 percent are on the battlefield, the study said.

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CRIME

New York returns millions worth of stolen art to Italy

Prosecutors in New York on Tuesday returned dozens of antiquities stolen from Italy and valued at around $19 million, some of which were found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

New York returns millions worth of stolen art to Italy

“These 58 pieces represent thousands of years of rich history, yet traffickers throughout Italy utilized looters to steal these items and to line their own pockets,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, noting that it was the third such repatriation in nine months.

“For far too long, they have sat in museums, homes, and galleries that had no rightful claim to their ownership,” he said at a ceremony attended by Italian diplomats and law enforcement officials.

The stolen items had been sold to Michael Steinhardt, one of the world’s leading collectors of ancient art, the DA’s office said, adding that he had been slapped with a “first-of-its-kind lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities.”

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Among the recovered treasures, which in some cases were sold to “unwitting collectors and museums,” were a marble head of the Greek goddess Athena from 200 B.C.E. and a drinking cup dating back to 470 B.C.E, officials said.

The pieces were stolen at the behest of four men who “all led highly lucrative criminal enterprises – often in competition with one another – where they would use local looters to raid archaeological sites throughout Italy, many of which were insufficiently guarded,” the DA’s office said.

One of them, Pasquale Camera, was “a regional crime boss who organized thefts from museums and churches as early as the 1960s. He then began purchasing stolen artifacts from local looters and sold them to antiquities dealers,” it added.

It said that this year alone, the DA’s office has “returned nearly 300 antiquities valued at over $66 million to 12 countries.”

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